Nigerian 'Taliban' routed as Army storms its base

Maiduguri, Nigeria - Heavy guns and small arms fire pounded the besieged compound of the Boko Haram group, which styled itself on the Taliban and wanted strict Sharia introduced across Nigeria.

Helicopters swooped over the organisation's base in the city of Maiduguri yesterday, flushing out followers who were gunned down as they fled. Witnesses reported seeing bodies littering the mosque compound.

"We spotted dozens of members of Boko Haram fleeing," said Hamad Bulunkutu, a Maiduguri resident. "They stopped by briefly, shaved their hair and beard and discarded their jellabiyah (white Arabic kaftans) for T-shirts and jeans."

Up to 200 were killed during the operation, adding to as many as 400 others who have died since the violence broke out on Sunday.

Similar police operations were going in at least two other northern Nigerian cities as the authorities acted on President Umaru Yar Adua's order to crush the group "once and for all".

Its leader, Muhammed Yusuf, is believed to have escaped as his house and headquarters in Maiduguri were shelled, but police sources said his deputy, Abubakar Shekau, had been killed.

Nigeria's Taliban, which has no known links to the Afghan insurgency, emerged seven years ago and began a series of attacks on the country's authorities, mostly police stations.

It said it would wage war on "immorality" and its strict interpretation of Islam called for "Western education" to be banned.